I know why the Leafs gave Travis Dermott 23 as his new jersey number. It’s the number most on their minds right now.

Twenty-three is the maximum number of players an NHL team can have on their roster. And that’s how many the Leafs have right now with the callup of Dermott and Frederik Gauthier. Except, they actually have 25.

Leafs Roster as at Jan. 16, 2018

Tyler Bozak (A)42CR6' 1"199Mar 19, 1986Regina, SK, CAN
Connor Brown28RWR6' 0"185Jan 14, 1994Toronto, ON, CAN
Frederik Gauthier33CL6' 5"232Apr 26, 1995Laval, QC, CAN
Zach Hyman11CR6' 1"213Jun 9, 1992Toronto, ON, CAN
Nazem Kadri43CL6' 0"190Oct 6, 1990London, ON, CAN
Leo Komarov (A)47CL5' 11"209Jan 23, 1987Narva, EST
Josh Leivo32LWR6' 2"210May 26, 1993Innisfil, ON, CAN
Patrick Marleau12CL6' 2"215Sep 15, 1979Aneroid, SK, CAN
Mitchell Marner16CR6' 0"175May 5, 1997Markham, ON, CAN
Matt Martin15LWL6' 3"220May 8, 1989Windsor, ON, CAN
Auston Matthews34CL6' 3"216Sep 17, 1997San Ramon, CA, USA
Dominic Moore20CL6' 0"192Aug 3, 1980Thornhill, ON, CAN
William Nylander29CR6' 0"191May 1, 1996Calgary, AB, CAN
Nikita Soshnikov *26RWL5' 11"185Oct 14, 1993Nizhny Tagil, RUS
James van Riemsdyk25LWL6' 3"217May 4, 1989Middletown, NJ, USA
Andreas Borgman55DL6' 0"212Jun 18, 1995Stockholm, SWE
Connor Carrick8DR5' 10"192Apr 13, 1994Orland Park, IL, USA
Travis Dermott23DL6' 0"208Dec 22, 1996Newmarket, ON, CAN
Jake Gardiner51DL6' 2"200Jul 4, 1990Minnetonka, MN, USA
Ron Hainsey2DL6' 3"205Mar 24, 1981Bolton, CT, USA
Roman Polak46DR6' 2"235Apr 28, 1986Ostrava, CZE
Morgan Rielly (A)44DL6' 1"217Mar 9, 1994Vancouver, BC, CAN
Nikita Zaitsev *22DR6' 2"195Oct 29, 1991Moscow, RUS
Frederik Andersen31G6' 4"230Oct 2, 1989Herning, DNK
Curtis McElhinney35G6' 2"200May 23, 1983London, ON, CAN

The rule right now is: If your name is Nikita, you’re on IR. And that’s how they get 25 guys to fit into 23 seats. There’s a couple of problems with that, and the most pressing is that Nikita Soshnikov is ready to play.

That’s that problem solved right? Well, no. That’s that problem deferred, and not by much. And I’m sorry but it’s CBA time again. The conditioning stint they are likely talking about here is this one:

13.9 Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan.

A Player who is on the Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception as set forth in Article 50 may, with his consent, during the term of such Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception (but in no event during the first fourteen (14) calendar days and six (6) NHL Games), be Loaned on a Conditioning Loan (the “Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan”) for a period not to exceed up to the longer of six (6) days and three (3) games, solely for the purpose of determining whether the Player is fit to play.

This kind of loan does not add the player back onto the active roster — he stays on IR. And it also does not require the player to have been on LTIR for the purposes of cap relief. The Leafs have no need to do that, so even though they could have placed both Soshnikov and Nikita Zaitsev on LTIR for the term of their injuries, they didn’t.

This conditioning loan was used for Josh Leivo last year. And that linked post contains the full CBA section which details the ways in which the Commissioner can investigate if he feels this is some kind of roster limit or waiver circumvention.

Let’s say for the sake of argument, that they send Soshnikov to the Marlies tomorrow. He gets in a practice, they travel on Thursday, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday they engage in a three in three in three cities, and that’s a very good time to have some extra bodies on hand.  He’s back before his six days run out and the Leafs have kicked this can down the road a week.

Now what?

Remember that Soshnikov has that KHL out-clause in his contract, and if the Leafs decide to just risk him on waivers (he’d be taken, as he’s an NHL-capable RFA on a low salary) they would risk losing him to the KHL if he gets fed up with not being played in the NHL.

So who on that list up there do you move to make room? The obvious answer is that the Frederik Gauthier tryout comes to a close, he goes back down with no waivers needed, and Dominic Moore comes back on the playing roster as the 4C. The less obvious but possible answer is that Moore gets waived, and ends up wherever he lands. There are enough teams who need centres of some kind, so he’d be gone.

So that leads to the possibility of a trade of Moore, if the Leafs are sure that Gauthier is their man. (I cannot believe I typed that.) And I hold out hope that the Leafs will have decided that Moore is man enough for them for right now and just do the obvious.

That’s fixed, but there’s another Nikita lurking, ready to really make things complicated.  Let’s assume the Leafs solve the Soshnikov dilemma by picking a 4C and sticking with him.  Who do you turf to make room for Zaitsev?

Yes, yes, waive Polak! Do it, do it! You know that’s not happening.  But who do you move and keep Dermott, which is what every fan wants and expects and is going to be angry over if it doesn’t happen.

There is only one choice of a player who is waiver exempt. And that’s Andreas Borgman, and that seems very unlikely to happen to me. We’ll know better by the time this is an issue, which will likely be after the All-Star break, but the plan of a rotation of the three youngest defenders, Borgman, Dermott and Carrick, seems seriously intended at the moment.

So what do the Leafs do? Have we finally, at long last, hit fish or cut bait time on these press box extras they’re afraid to risk waivers on? Will they try to sneak Josh Leivo through waivers, counting on his second year on his contract staying claiming hands? Or will they trade someone?

The projected return of Zaitsev falls about four weeks before the trade deadline, which marks the end of the 23-man restriction. So all the Leafs really need to do is kick the can down the road somehow for those few weeks.

Every other time it’s seemed absolutely necessary that the team with too many players must trade at least one, Lou just laughed and did nothing. So, I’m assuming that’s what’s going to happen until someone proves me wrong.